When I visited Siem Riep in 1991 it was sleepy backwater recovering from decades of brutal war. The single hotel was former French outpost pockmarked with bullets, the waiters in the newly opened "foreigner restaurant" limped terribly as they were unaccustomed to wearing shoes, and the only nightlife to be had was at a bar called The Minefield decorated with defused mines, run by a mercenary from New Zealand (who was offered his "wife" to the highest bidder), and inhabited by a rather large python named Gorbachev.
Today all this has changed. Siem Reip, or rather the nearby ruins of Angkor Wat are on the global must-see tourist list. The population of the city has increased 20 fold and is circled by 5 star hotels filled with foreigners on package tours. Thai phtographer Miti Ruangkritya's project On the Edge views the city at a distance from the vantage point of someone approaching (or perhaps momentarily escaping) the city... The effect is a sort of a topsy turvy South East Asian version Tati's film Play Time, a film about Paris, but in which Paris is only seen in distant reflection. The pictures are both familiar and foreign, and loaded with a dusty melancholy of seeing the underbelly of an encroaching world. (via HHS)
There's a poem I come back to every few years titled 'On Aesthetics' by Kenneth Koch. It runs about 20 pages of the book One Train and it never fails to delight. I'm not much of a poetry guy, but I love this poem.
A tiny excerpt:
#44 AESTHETICS OF DANTE
Invite your best friends
To go out with you in a boat
That's magic and can go anywhere
And sail and talk, and talk and sail,
Until you find Beatrice
Like an endangered species
With luminous antlers
Rising through the Medieval dark.
I'm excited about a show opening in a few weeks at Yossi Milo titled Retratos Pintados. It's an exhibit hand-painted Brazilian vernacular photographs from the collection of Titus Riedl. My grandparents in Mexico had photos like these around the house and I've always loved the form. A book with the same title with 60 some odd images was just released by Nazraeli Press. The forward is by Martin Parr. He writes in the intro:
"Nothing has stopped me in my tracks more than when I was first introduced to a set of images collected by Titus Riedl, while attending a Latin American photo forum in São Paulo. If you visit a house in the northeast of Brazil, you are very likely to see a photo painting on the wall. This is a tradition that dates back many years, when a black and white image was not deemed exciting enough. Painted photos are a way of bestowing status on members of your family (both dead and alive) and giving them an iconic, almost saint-like look. When the roving dealers visited these houses, in search of commissions, they were able to facilitate any dream. They could bring back the dead, dress you in expensive clothes and jewellery, make you look years younger. Although these images are still produced, they are now more likely to be computer-generated rather than hand-painted. As I was keen to see the last of these artists in action, Titus decided to arrange an introduction. We went to my hotel room and made the edit that you see here. As another analogue tradition dies, we offer the portraits in this book as a testament to a most remarkable method of creating portraits. Let the dream live on."
The book is definitely high on my wishlist and the show is marked MUST NOT FORGET on my calendar.
Pao Houa Her is a Hmong refugee who is studying in the Yale Graduate program for photography. Her website features a project titled Coming of the Metal Bird which is simultaneously familiar and odd. Describing the project, she writes, "A great big silver metal bird carried my family from Thailand in 1987 into the cold tundra of Minnesota. We arrived at a small cramped studio apartment which was to be our home. Inside the apartment was a green triangle shaped tree with lights that lit up in differnet shades of greens, yellows, blues and reds. Our sponsor had told us that Christmas was coming...." Read More
Gabriel: "I was walking in the forest and then... I got lost. I don't know which way I should go, so I went this way, but I saw a ghost in the forest saying, "Ewww I'm gonna get you."
Me: "What did the ghost look like?"
Gabriel: "This big. He was a daddy ghost he said, 'I'm gonna get that boy.'
Me: "And what happened"
Gabriel: "I flied way with my rocket ship on my back. I flied away. And then he he, went all the way up to the sky, but he saw me and I got all of my rockets in my head and on my feet and then I flied away like this. And then... that's the end of that dream."
I became aware of Carlo Gianferro's work through his African Interiors series. Don't know how I missed his Roma Interiors series. Brings to mind the characters of one of my favorite films, Black Cat, White Cat (oddly only available on Region 2 DVD or VHS).
"she meticulously turns her studio into a theatre set entirely constructed for the camera’s eye only. Imaginary rooms are given three-dimensional temporary presence only to be translated into two-dimensional records and then destroyed. Always empty, they are full of the residues left behind by the fictional actions of a character or a group of people who have seemingly just left them. Comparable to the effects of the absent ball in the mimed tennis game, her photographs aim at the fictionalisation of the world around her through the construction of sets that rotate entirely round absent actors."
While one could argue this could be said about any good still life, the suggestion of absent characters who have just stepped out is especially strong in Hardy's work and infuses it with an air of mystery.
Of her physical process of making her work she writes
"The whole space is structured around the position of the camera. It's put together as a photograph, rather than an installation. Sometimes I go back and reshoot things, moving something 10cm this way or that. The actual moment of taking the final photograph can almost seem - not an anticlimax, but such a tiny thing."
A huge earthquake struck Yushu province yesterday. It's a remote and beautiful part of the world and conditions there are tough in the best of times. High passes, bad roads, and poor communication are the norm. In my trips there through the region I've made many friends. All must be suffering now.
My guess is that the true scale of this calamity will never be known and the reports of the dead will be wildly underestimated.
An account of my first trip to Jiegu in 1999 (Jiegu is the Tibetan name, Yushu is the official Chinese name): Xining-Garze
Eighteen years ago at dusty backpacker restaurant near the Labrang Monastery I encountered an English language menu item title "Beef Slum Galleon Spiced." At a table was my buddy JP, a few wayward Australians (one named Jennita Gay who was surfing her way around the world, but somehow ended up in Tibet), and a Japanese kid named Goto who rarely spoke. It's possible my friend Oliver was there too. We took delight in what we assumed was translation gone horribly wrong. Ever since then, every few years, JP and Goto—independent of each other—bring up the mysterious and wonderful sounding Beef Slum Galleon Spiced trying to imagine the tortured path that brought the string of words into being.
Today I came across the word "slumgullion". According to the OED it's a North American mining term for the "muddy deposit left in mining sluice" [Slum is an archaic English term for mining mud and gullion is a term for a mining pit]. Miners, being miners, started referring to their stews as slumgullion and soon the definition of slumgullion as a stew began to dominate. The earliest reference I could find to the term was in a book titled "The Best of Kin Hubbard: Abe Martin's Sayings and Wisecracks." The passage is account of a story from 1828 but it's unclear when the passage was actually published. [The OED 's earliest reference is from Mark Twain's Roughing It where the word is used jokingly to describe a "weak drink." By then and through the early 1900's the references are generally pejorative and associated with poverty or just a really crappy stew. Here's another reference, this one from Jack London. There is some speculation that term Mulligan Stew, also a hobo type stew, is a bastardization of slumgullion stew.... This seems like a stretch to me. Recent web references are generally nostalgic— septuagenarians recalling delicious stews of their youth.].
These references piqued my interest in slumgullion recipes which led me to this page and this page where the respective authors take you through their own exploration of the word/stew.
From the 1860's to the 1940's slumgullion seemed to be a relatively common American term. It was mentioned enough in literature and in news reports to turn up in modern google searches.
So it seems that our Tibetan restaurateur was not involved in a seriously misguided translation as we had suspected, but he was probably just using a pre-Communist revolution English dictionary from the 30's (these were common in China in the early 90's) and slumgullion was the proper translation of his dish. Somewhere along the line there was some phonetic spelling going on and gullion became galleon. An easy mistake! Mystery solved!
I've seen Noko Jeans links floating around for a few years but always thought they were some sort of joke. Apparently not. Clicking through to the website shows candid video and images from the DPRK. Every time I see video from there it reminds me of China in the mid 80's. The whole enterprise is odd/fascinating and could easily be mistaken for an art project.
Egyptian photographer Youssef Nabil uses the forgotten technique of hand coloring silver gelatin photographs to create images evoking an instant pang of nostalgia. For me they recall Mexican wedding photos from my parent's and grandparent's era (also my own Mexican baby photos), and Mexican movie promo photos, I distrust my instant attraction to the work and yet feel compelled by the technique/images nonetheless.
Putting Gabriel (3) and Raul Andres (5) to sleep tonight, the topic of conversation turned to death. Note the person referred to as Haraboji is the kids' great grandfather. A slightly abbreviated transcript:
Gabriel: Where is Haraboji's wife?
Me: She died before you were born.
Raul Andres: How did she die?
Me: She was very sick.
Raul Andres: I got sick and didn't die.
Me: Well she was very old got very very sick.
Gabriel: Haraboji is sad. He misses her too much.
Raul Andres: Your abuelito and abuelita died.
Gabriel: Do you miss them?
Gabriel: Will you die?
Gabriel: I don't think that is a good idea.
Raul Andres: How would we live?
Me: I don't think it will happen for a long long time when I'm very old. You'll be men by then.
Raul Andres: Will everyone die? Everyone?
Gabriel: Then who will live in the world?
Me: Well, all the babies who are being born today. They'll grow up and have new babies.
Gabriel: But if we die, they'll never know us.
Raul Andres: I know what happens when you die. They put your body in the ground and cover it up.
Gabriel: So scientists can find you later?!
Raul Andres: And they put a rock with your name on top to remember.
Gabriel: But how can you remember everyone?
Me: Well, sometimes even after we die we give things to people. Like Gabriel even though you never met my Abuelito he gave you his ears, and Raul Andres, even though you never knew him, you have the same eyes. So I remember him every day when I look at you guys and you remember him even though you never knew him.
I'm a huge fan of Asako Narahashi's work. Her book Half Asleep and Half Awake In The Water is one I've turned to many times over the last two years (my copy is was signed by the artist at an opening here in NY, but ironically was waterstained by one of my kids a few hours later). Ms. Narahashi is now showing a new related body of work titled Coming Closer and Getting Further Away which she bills as the "oversees version" of Half Asleep. These photos taken in Dubai, Paris, Korea, Brooklyn, Taiwan, and Germany are infused with her signature lyricism, but unfortunately the full project isn't available online. You can see some images from Dubai here and from Korea here. (via japan foto info)
A few months ago photographer John Maloof discovered a huge cache of photographs and negatives (many unprocessed) by an unknown Chicago photographer named Vivian Maier. It was an incredible find and a great story. I've been following along ever since and eagerly look forward to John's updates of Maier's work. A few recently rediscovered images:
Just discovered this Macpaint file collecting screenshots of various early Mac icons (some finder icons, some in-application icons, some resedit icons). Most are circa 1985, although several are later. 10 points to the person who can name them all.
Need a cheatsheet? Check out the insanely detailed Vintage Mac Museum which not only has icons, but also houses screenshots, of many — but not all — of these apps.
Want the story the sad mac icon's birth: Read here.
Gross' website houses a number of bodies of work (everything from an imagined modern day life of Czech composer Leos Janacek to stories of deforestation in Brazil) and deserves exploration. (via Colin Pantall's photography blog)
Mike Brodie who goes by Polaroid Kidd, primarily photographs what he calls travel culture — some might call it domestic backpacking culture, or modern hobo culture. Whatever the name, he makes plenty of compelling images, including the one above which probably has nothing to do with travel culture.
My friend and 20x200 colleague Sara Distin will be running her first marathon in support of First Descents, a charity providing guidance and support young adults with cancer. The date of the race coincides with the anniversary of her dad's death. Of the charity she writes:
Had First Descents been around in 1984 when my dad was diagnosed at the age of 37, I imagine he would have been quick to sign himself up. A lifelong outdoorsman, he kept on hiking, windsurfing and skiing as long as he was able. When doctors forbade it and common sense probably should have stopped him, he slipped out of the house in the middle of the night to windsurf and wander. He lived with cancer for 11+ years. Along the way, he imparted his love for life, the outdoors and adventure to me and my sweet sister, Katie.
My incentive to you to make a donation is this: everyone who donates more that $500 towards Sara's goal will be in the running to receive a 20x24 print of mine titled "Father and Son" (#2 of 7, signed). Of my own images, this is one of my favorites.
I will award the 20x24 print to a person selected at random from the pool of contributors after the race in April. Additionally, every person who makes a $500+ donation via this web post will get a signed 8.5x11 print of my choosing.
Last year I decided each month should be marked by a project. January Project:Shine light on the mysteries of the F train.
January 4: Saw a guy with a pinky ring and remembered a friend of mine who said she had a boyfriend who wore a pinky ring and did "pinky ring kinds of things". I never knew what that meant exactly, but I wondered if this guy would know what she was talking about.
January 5: Do women with with extremely dense, extremely curly hair use their hair as pillow on the road?
January 6: I've seen many of people in this car before. How long does one live in New York before every day is an encounter with the vaguely familiar?
January 7: The subway car is quiet, but the loudness of people's thoughts is deafening. Wonder if any people here saw Wings of Desire and are thinking the same thing?
January 8: Guy in a nice suit. Drunk. 10am.
January 11: Where does one find blue jeans decorated with AK47 silhouettes? And bullet holes! They have manufactured bullet holes.
January 12: Guy with mismatched socks. Actually not much of a mystery because the guy is me. **Bonus mystery: Why is it that one always sees people reading Marquez novels in pairs?
January 13: French people telling knock knock jokes.
January 14: On the ride home in a mostly empty subway car a girl who is about 20 sat down next to a guy who is about 20. They want to talk. Maybe when I exit
January 15: Fellow with a new Zune.
January 18: Saw a guy who reminded me of a kid I knew in kindergarten named Roderick Ross. Wondered if this guy might be Roderick grown up? I didn't ask.
January 19: A girl in a yellow coat is crying quietly.
January 20: How does a person smell like fish and peppermint at the same time?
January 21: Woman with a violin case decorated with stickers for The Cramps.
January 22: Man wearing 2 scarves.
January 25: A lady is eating black licorice on purpose.
January 26: Black coats all around then a woman in a red coat enters. Everyone turns.
January 27: Girl literally whistling Dixie.
January 28.: Fellow with mullet. Of you mulletman I ask: Where does one go to acquire such a stunning mullet cut these days?
January 29: A woman drew X's, O's, and hearts all over her hand and up part of her arm.She looks tired — not the hand drawing type. Maybe she didn't draw them. Maybe it was one of her kids. She looks too young for kids. Looks like she's going to work.
Talked to a photographer friend today who had never heard of Yasuhiro Ishimoto. A situation I feel I had to correct:
Ishimoto was born in San Francisco, moved to Japan at 3, and then moved back at 17 only to be put in an interment camp a few years later. After being released he lived in Chicago from the late 40's to the 60's where he made many iconic photographs. While he returned to Japan in the 60's and has been there ever since, his his best known for his Chicago work. You can get a small taste of Ishimoto's sharp eye by scanning this gallery (unfortunately on an aggressively awkward-to-navigate website). A few images can be also seen at the Museum of Contemporary Photography. To really give Ishimoto his full due you have to grab one his books. A Tale of Two Cities is a good place to start.
Hey everybody, we're running our annual 20% off sale over at 20x200. The sale is a super opportunity to collect work from a wide range of top notch photographers and artists. The discount is for everything on our site including our largest prints. For those of you rusty with math that's $400 off our 30x40's... 11"x14's are now $40. It's a very good deal, but you have to jump because it expires soon!
The discount code is RIDONK (We call it a 20% More Ridiculous Sale). You enter it in google checkout. Want to learn more about the sale, read more here.
Here are a few long time Heading East favorites to get you started:
I love this image by Hanna Pierce-Carlson. Hannah and her husband Michael recently moved Taiwan and she's obviously been inspired by the place. Hannah blogs about the transition on insig.ht, a group photography blog. It will be exciting to follow the work and see where it goes.
I've always been something of a space geek (Many of my childhood bookplates are signed, Raul A. Gutierrez, Future Space Pilgrim) so Vincent Fournier's Space Project hits me squarely in the solar plexus. Fournier travelled to space centers worldwide including the Yuri Gagarin Space Research Center, The Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, The Guiana Space Center, and the Atcama Desert Observatories in Chile and came back with a set of pictures that tells me Vincent is a pretty big space geek himself.
On this day exactly twenty years ago I lost my mother and my youngest brother. I've written about this on previous January 1rsts. The date because of it's neatness — January 1, 1990 — gives me an absurdly simple way measure the the time from that day this one. Sometimes in conversation someone will ask how long ago they died, and I always resist the urge to give the questioner an exact tally with months and days attached. Stating the elapsed time so precisely seems too intense, but the calculation is automatic and needs no mental machinery. Recalling death anniversaries not just by years but also with months and days was something my grandmother would do. She carried around the dates of her 9 brothers and sisters who preceded her in death. None of her siblings, except maybe Tio Tibero, fell on easily divisible days.
At the age of 22, twenty years would have seemed an eternity to me, and yet nothing about those terrible days has faded. After being told the news and summoned home, I remember standing on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street and hailing a taxi. In the cab I spun one of the buttons on my shirt back and forth until it broke and held that button in a tightly clasped fist all the way back to Texas. On arriving to my house which was strangely full of people, an aunt hugged me deeply and whispered through tears that she would fix my shirt. Wordlessly I handed her the button.
Christopher would be 39. It's hard to imagine he's been gone a year longer than he lived. Back then I was skinny but he was skinnier. We both carried cameras everywhere. I can't picture him thick and middle aged as I am now, still lugging a camera around. When he comes to me in dreams he is always young. Sometimes 19, sometimes 12, sometimes 4. In those dreams am always 3 years older. We play, or torture each other, or look at stars as we often did. My 5 year old son, Raul Andres, with his mad creative bursts of bookmaking and deep love of robots channels him sometimes. And sometimes when I reading to Raul Andres I get the sense memory of myself at 8 reading to Christopher. Often I am reading from the selfsame heavily worn books we read as children complete with our childish crayon annotations. Raul Andres happens to love the same stories and laughs in the same places.
My mom would be 65. She was only 3 years older than I am now when she died. But at 42 my life with kids is just beginning, while at 45, her life with kids was ending. Was she really younger than me now when I left for college? She complained bitterly of empty nest syndrome when I left. The scope and shape of her life versus mine is hard to reconcile. These days in my dreams of her she is always 45 and I am whatever age I am. In those dreams I am going about my life and will suddenly notice her in the corner of the room watching silently. I find myself asking questions, trying to fill in the holes, but she vanishes when I approach. I wonder if she will remain 45 in those dreams when I am an old man.
The deaths left me keenly aware of time and it's strange fluxuations. In the immediate aftermath, my old life, the life of a few days before, was suddenly distant. Thinking a week or a month or a year into the future was impossible. With all my nerve endings exposed, I existed rather than lived suspended in an excruciating endless moment. For some months afterward, the date had a gravity which I orbited at various speeds without regard for anything else. I focused on the timeline. Days would tick by painfully and yet everything seemed to be moving at lightning speed. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, one day it was over. Through a mysterious combination of good friends, travel, art, and love I reached escape velocity. I woke up, blinked my eyes in the bright sunlight, and time itself was righted, the continuum of my own life while disturbed was comprehensible again, and I could appreciate my strange new life without being tethered to a catastrophic moment. I don't know exactly how it happened, but I think it was because I realized at that I had a choice and I choose to move forward.
Someone asked me the other day whether experiencing tragedy at a relatively young age had made me more or less able to deal with tragedy now. I answered, no. You can't compare loss. Each one is uniquely capricious and each one ricochets through family and friends in unpredictable patterns of destruction. The irony of tragedy is that it is the inverse of friendship and love. The more you give of yourself, the larger your network of potential grief, but then again, the more people you have to help pick you up when you fall. We're all more vulnerable than we know, but we're stronger too.
So it's been twenty years. Mom, Christopher, you'd barely recognize me now, but I'd hope you'd be proud of the family I've created. We have fun. I miss you guys.